This I Believe

Elizabeth - Charlottesville, Virginia
Entered on January 9, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in study abroad. In September of 1985 I went to Valencia, Spain for my junior year. I didn’t go off to college with the idea that I would study abroad but I had fallen in love with Spanish and knew that to truly understand both the language and culture I would have to live in Spain. Because I lived with a host family I immediately had the experience of day to day life as a local. I learned to adjust my eating habits and loved coming home in the early afternoon for the main meal of the day and the siesta. I learned how to maneuver through a large city. I learned how to avoid getting run over by taxis and scooters. I learned the importance of embracing and celebrating life every day. I learned that getting lost in a labyrinth of ancient streets can be a wonderful adventure and I learned to speak Spanish with ease. I also learned how to look back at the US with a new perspective. Watching t.v. with my family was an education in and of itself. I remember being amazed with the weather map which showed the entire world. And I remember being amused when my host siblings though that what they saw on Falcon Crest and Dallas was “real America”. I would watch the news every day with my host father and saw my country as an outsider. I saw a United States that was familiar but at the same time wasn’t. It was a bit unsettling, not unlike the time I saw my grandmother with her hair, normally in a neat bun, flowing long and white down her back. She was someone I knew well and felt safe with but at the same time she frightened me.

By the end of my year abroad I felt that I belonged in Valencia. I was comfortable with the language, I had made wonderful friends, I had become part of the city in a way I never could have as a tourist and I felt that my world was larger but at the same time smaller than it had been before. I had every intention of returning as soon as I could, but I met my husband a few months after the program ended. Soon my life was focused on home and kids, but Valencia was always a part of me even if I thought I would never get back. Little did I know that 15 years after heading off for Valencia for the first time I would be working for the program that I attended. Now I prepare students for their own study abroad experience and see the transformation in their lives and world view. I believe that I learned how to be a citizen of the world in my time abroad and I see students become more open and aware as well. I know that for them, as for me, abroad is now just another word for home.